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North America » United States » Oregon » Ashland
August 18th 2011
Published: June 1st 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Rafting the Upper Klamath





Today, I rafted the Klamath.

This river has very unusual geology.

The source is a large swampy area in southern Oregon.

Most of the swamps have been turned into fields; the remainder is crucial bird habitat.

From there, it flows into a narrow and steep canyon through the Cascade Mountains, before emptying into the Pacific.

The Klamath has a wide and flat source and a very narrow mouth, reversing the usual pattern.

Those swamps make river travel more hazardous; all the organic matter in the river turns the water brown and hides rocks.





The Klamath is one of only two rivers that pass completely through the Cascades, along with the Columbia.

The Columbia carved its gorge through sheer water flow and the Bretz Floods .

The Klamath did it by eroding one little piece at a time upstream from the mouth.

It helps that the canyon is located between two old volcanoes, where the rocks were weakest.

The Klamath is a very young river geologically speaking, so it hasn’t had time to wash out many rocks along its course.

All those rocks form fantastic rapids.





I did the trip with Momentum Expeditions, which I chose after reading internet reviews.

They are a small and specialized outfitter.

Their guides have significant experience.

The small size meant that getting them on the phone outside rafting season to make a reservation was quite difficult, though.





I met the guides in a strip mall parking lot in Ashland.

Unlike bigger outfitters, their entire operation is based out of a van with rafts on a trailer.

Once in the van, we had a really long drive to the put in.

The road snakes through the Cascades.

Some of the views were long distance and pretty.

Many western roads have warning signs about cattle in the road; this was the first road where I actually saw some.





Eventually, we pulled off the road onto a dirt track.

This dirt track quickly gave a view of a narrow canyon with a small stream at the bottom.

Although it doesn’t look that way, the canyon is the river.

This section is bypassed by a hydroelectric plant.

The road crossed the power canal and then dropped into the canyon.

The dirt track is one lane with a steep drop off, so this was one worrying drive!

Eventually it reached the power plant, which had a huge pipe going up the hillside behind it.

The river roared to life.

The put in appeared soon afterward, a big parking lot with primitive toilets.

We had to change into our gear in the toilets, and then we got on the water.





Many western rivers, unlike their eastern counterparts, can be run in oar boats.

The guide steers the boat with a pair of large oars.

Guides have more control than paddle boats, so the trip is safer.

Guests are still expected to paddle, although the guide can power the boat by themselves if they really need to.

(Some companies offer river trips where guides do all the work; veterans call them “hold on and pray” trips).





I picked an oar boat for this trip, to get a comfortable danger level in the middle of a long road trip.

This turned out to be a really good thing.

I ended up in a boat with three people.

The guide’s extra control ultimately made the difference between enjoying this trip and the disaster I suffered on the Chattooga .

The two of us still had to paddle a great deal, but not nearly as much as that trip.





For many, the Upper Klamath is the perfect introduction to difficult rafting.

It has a dream layout of easy rapids that get steadily more difficult, then a mile of intense whitewater, followed by a cool down.

Ironically, many people fall in during the cool down section because they let down their guard and relax too much.





For the most part, the canyon looks very different to the stereotype, although it is typical for the west.

Many people imagine a western canyon as being like the Grand Canyon, a huge gaping slice in the earth.

In reality, most are like a wedding cake of steep valleys, each one inside the next.

The walls of each valley block the view of the canyon walls further up, so the full size is only apparent at the upper rim.

For us on the river, it looked just like a narrow ravine.





All of the rapids on this river have a similar pattern, rock gardens.

The water pours around and over large sets of rocks.

The size of the drops between the rocks, and how close they are to each other, gives the difficulty level.

When the passages between them are tight, there is little room for error.

All those rocks also mean that any swim will be painful.


Caldera



The early rapids on this river were easy enough, twisting past rock islands, crossing rock bars, and similar things.

Things heated up with Caldera.

The first of the class IV section, it consisted of huge rocks covering the river bed, which we had to drop through and around.

To get through, we had paddle constantly and precisely, over a seemingly endless string of little drops.

The rapid was long enough to produce an adrenaline rush, but not much fatigue.

I’m beginning to realize why many rafters consider this river an addiction.





As we proceeded through, the geology slowly changed.

The ravine walls became steeper and closer together.

The river narrowed.

The giveaway was seeing blocks of black rock on the walls.

Those rocks are basalt, the remains of old lava flows.

The Klamath has reached the volcanic heart of the Cascades.


Hell's Corner



Basalt has more erosion resistance than many rocks, so the river had to do much more work to cut this stretch.

The consequence is in the bed, big jagged rocks close together.

Some of them have fallen from the walls.

Those rocks create Hell’s Corner, a half mile monster of a rapid which is the toughest on the trip.

The name, incidentally, predates rafters.

Back when the river was used as a settler’s supply route, this is where travelers were most likely to be ambushed.





Hell’s Corner was lots of work.

We poured over rocks into holes, twisted around huge boulders, snuck through narrow slots, and paddled constantly.

The guide’s ability to maneuver the boat really showed in this stretch, precisely lining up drop after drop.

Many had little room for error; some had none at all.

It ultimately blurred together, all waves and rocks.

Finally, we were through.

From here, things get easier.



Internet video of Caldera and Hell's Corner





Remember the tendency to relax in the final stretch and the problems it can cause?

That bit us, hard.

We had to get through a class III rock island rapid.

Floods had deposited a bunch of rocks in a shallow part of the river bed, forming an island.

We took the deeper of the two channels around it.

Unfortunately, we ran too close to the side.

A nice big rock caught one of the oars, flipping it back into the guide.

The force knocked him over and nearly out of the boat.

It also twisted the raft into the current, sideways.

The correct response is to paddle, as our guide yelled at us to do.

Instead, the two of us spent the first part trying to hide in the bottom of the boat as it dropped haphazardly over rocks.

Eventually, we regained our composure and paddled to regain control.

That was close.





The last major rapid on the river is Stateline Falls.

It occurs on the border between Oregon and California.

It is another garden of midsized rocks.

After the previous experience, we were ready for this one.

Ironically, that made it feel easy enough I wondered what the bother was about.





After that rapid, the canyon turns into a wide valley.

It doesn’t last very long, but it’s the first safe place for a takeout.

The valley contained a ranch, and used to contain farms.

Those farms were responsible for the last hazard we had to contend with, walls across the river made of little rocks.

The walls are former low dams, built to divert water to irrigate fields.

These dams are surprisingly hazardous.

Run properly, they are a little drop and it’s over.

Swimmers, however, can get caught in a nasty undertow at the base which is nearly impossible to escape without aid.

Once past the dams, the trip was over.


Oregon Shakespeare Festival



After the raft trip, I went to the other major item for today, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

It started in Ashland in 1935 and has grown into one of the most important theater festivals in the United States.

Groups perform plays at venues around town from spring to fall, the most important being an outdoor recreation of the Globe Theater.

Not all of the plays are by Shakespeare.

Tickets are hard to get.

Thankfully, the festival has an incredibly helpful website with exact listings of availability for each show.

Since the raft trip determined which days I have free, I booked the show immediately after confirming my raft reservations.


Loves Labors Lost



I saw Loves Labors Lost, one of the less popular of Shakespeare’s plays.

This one normally isn’t taught in high school English class.

It explores the foibles of human emotion and the use and abuse of language.

The play is unusual in that Shakespeare apparently wrote the plot from scratch; he usually got the basic story from existing literature.

The play tells the story of a prince and three lords who decide to pursue a course of scholarly study and personal improvement.

To do so, they dedicate themselves to a monastic lifestyle apart from society, including women.

This becomes a problem when a princess from a neighboring kingdom and thee courtiers show up to negotiate a land treaty.

The men immediately fall in love and do all sorts of things to court the ladies, all the while trying to hide their activities from their servants and each other.

In the end, all four get caught.

The men used language for deceitful ends and failed, while the women used language for honest ends and succeeded.

The women ultimately reject the noblemen’s advances; if they can’t keep a vow to each other, how will they keep vows to other people?





The play is pretty typical for a Shakespeare comedy.

It’s filled with absurd situations of all sorts, such as the misdelivered letters so familiar from other plays.

The dialogue, one of Shakespeare’s strengths, is filled with witty poetry.

Much of it contains atrocious puns, not all of which are apparent to a modern audience.

The weakest parts of this play are scenes showcasing customs that were common in Elizabethan England but obscure now, such as a scene long discussion on “The Nine Worthies”.


Shakespeare for a New Generation





The performance was most notable for how it was staged.

Many people view Shakespeare as high literature, deep idea filled writing that is hard to understand.

The aforementioned use of the plays in high school English certainly adds to that impression.

This is very different to how they were perceived in their own time; the plays were written as popular entertainment.

Entertainment created with skill few humans have ever equaled since, but entertainment none the less.

A group of directors have attempted to bring this aspect back to performances, with varying degrees of success.

The producers of this show, Shakespeare for a New Generation, are some of them.





Like most performers with this point of view, they set the play in the current day.

The sets all look modern.

The ‘grass’ outside the castle was visibly Astroturf.

The younger members of the cast dressed like they stepped out of a J. Crew catalog, while the older servants looked like the cast of Mad Men.

Props included things like IPods, telephones, and trash cans.

So far, pretty standard stuff that I’ve seen in other performances.





This one uniquely pushes the envelope on sexual humor and tension.

Sex in Shakespeare’s writing is subtle, always through implication, asides, and double meanings.

Shakespeare was a master of the double entendre.

Most of this slides right past modern audiences, who don’t have the same vocabulary an Elizabethan audience did.

The producers of this play made it more obvious, to about the level of a modern TV sitcom.

To pick one example, the opening scene has the four noblemen dropping a bunch of things in a trash can, to symbolize the worldly temptations they are giving up.

One of those things was a stack of Playboys (which one character looked at longingly before throwing them in).

Another notable scene has the four noblemen composing love sonnets in secret, simultaneously, which they intend to hide in the woods for the ladies to discover.

The director staged this one as a boy band music video, suggestive choreography included.





On the whole, I enjoyed the play, because the performers did the humor with restraint.

Liking Shakespeare comedies certainly helps.

I can see other groups taking things too far for cheap laughs, though, the way many bad sitcoms do.





I had dinner tonight at the Caldera Tap House.

I chose it for its food, since anywhere in town is guaranteed to have good beer like the rest of the state.

Since it was warm out, I ate on the back porch.

The food was good.

The beer was locally made, and very good.

Desert was gooey chocolate cake.





Ashland, like Hood River, is yet another town where the best lodging is all Bed and Breakfasts .

I chose an unusual one recommended by my guidebook.

The Mount Ashland Inn is located halfway up the namesake peak, almost a half hour from downtown.

The drive up has special views of the surrounding area, including a long distance view of Mount Shasta, the second southernmost volcano of the Cascades.

The inn itself is a classic log cabin.

The rooms are named for mountain peaks, and the hallways are lined with landscape art.

The breakfasts are very good.

Since it is located a good distance from the town proper, the rates are more affordable than most for this time of year.

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